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Pentagon Gearing Up for Space Warfare

Issued: 2018-03-08

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood / Getty Images

BY: Bill Gertz Follow @BillGertz March 8, 2018 5:00 am

The Pentagon is preparing for war should China, Russia, or other adversaries attack vital American satellites and other space systems, a senior Pentagon official told Congress on Wednesday.

John Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, testified before a House subcommittee that the Trump administration's new defense policy calls for conducting military and other operations in response to space attacks, mainly by China and Russia.

Rood said American space systems are essential for "our prosperity, security, and way of life."

"And [Defense Department] space capabilities are critical for effective deterrence, defense, and force projection capabilities," he told a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.

"Due to the critical importance of these assets, the national security strategy states, ‘any harmful interference with or attack upon critical components of our space architecture that directly affects this vital U.S. interest will be met with a deliberate response at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.'"

The statement on space defense was the first clear policy announcement by a senior U.S. official outlining "declaratory policy" normally reserved for strategic nuclear weapons use.

The new policy represents a break from the policies of the Obama administration that sought to promote transparency initiatives and arms control agreements as a way to limit space weapons or conflict in space.

The policy likely will be opposed by arms control advocates, and by both China and Russia, which have been promoting agreements limiting space weapons at the United Nations while secretly building arms for space conflict.

Rood said the Pentagon has requested $12.5 billion in funding for the fiscal year 2019 that begins Oct. 1 for building up what he termed a "more resilient defendable space architecture."

The request is $1.1 billion more than funding for last year on military space.

Rood, and Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the Omaha-based Strategic Command, testified on the command's budget request of $24 billion.

Neither elaborated on what space warfare capabilities are being developed. The Pentagon also has not said how it would deter and defend satellites from attack.

Space defense so far has involved development of intelligence capabilities to identify and assess if an incident in space is an attack, or the result of a malfunction or disruption due to collision with space debris.

Military space "resilience" also calls for the Pentagon to rapidly replace or restore satellites after attacks or other disruptions.

The Pentagon's Defense Science Board, in a report last year, warned that the vulnerability of U.S. satellites to electronic attack was "a crisis to be dealt with immediately."

The Joint Staff intelligence directorate warned earlier this year that China and Russia will have fully developed space attack weapons in place by 2020 that will threaten all U.S. satellites in low earth orbit—100 miles to 1,200 miles in space.

More than 780 orbiting satellites operated by 43 nations are currently in low-earth orbit and are vulnerable to electronic or kinetic attacks.

Satellites form the backbone of the U.S. military's ability to conduct combined arms warfare over long distances. They provide communications, navigation, intelligence and surveillance, weapons targeting, and attack warning.

Analysts say anti-satellites attacks knocking out 12 Global Positioning System satellites, located in medium-earth orbit around 12,550 miles high, would be severely degraded military operations.

U.S. space weapons are likely to match anti-satellite weaponry developed by both China and Russia. That would include several types of weapons and capabilities, ranging from advanced missile defense interceptors modified for space attacks on satellites, cyber warfare capabilities to disrupt or destroy anti-satellite and space weapons systems both in space and on the ground, and lasers and electronic jammers.

A defense source said one of the more stealthy anti-satellite capabilities being considered is a laser weapon capable of overheating an orbiting satellite that would disrupt or destroy electronic components.

Small satellites with robotic arms capable of maneuvering and grabbing or crushing satellites also could be developed. Such satellites have been tested by China.

The experimental space plane known as the X-37B, that has been secretly tested on long-duration flights in space, is also said to be a potential platform for delivering weapons and fighting in space.

Hyten, the Stratcom commander, said in his prepared statement that the Pentagon and National Reconnaissance Office are implementing a "space warfighting construct."

"This construct supports the national space policy and focuses on the forces, operations, and systems needed to prevail in a conflict that extends into space," he said.

"Space is a warfighting domain just like the air, ground, maritime, and cyberspace domains," Hyten said.


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